From Ponkapog to Pesth: A Slight Glance at Certain Manners and Customs
THE reader will probably not find Ponkapog set down in any but the very latest gazetteer of the period. It is the Indian name of a little New England village from which the writer sallied forth, a year ago, “ strange countrees for to see.” Ponkapog scarcely merits a description, and Pesth — the farthest point east to which his wanderings led him — has been too often described. He is thus happily relieved of the onus of making strictly good the title of this paper, whose chief merit, indeed, is that it treats of neither Pesth nor Ponkapog.
It was a roundabout road the writer took to reach the Hungarian capital, — a road that carried him as far north as Inverness, Scotland, and as far south as Naples. But the ground he passed over had been worn smooth by the feet of millions of tourists and paved three deep with “ books of travel.” He was too wise to let anything creep into his notebook beyond a bit of landscape here and there, a street scene in sepia, or an outline sketch of some custom or peculiarity that chanced to strike his fancy, — and these he offers modestly to the reader.
There is one thing which sometimes comes near taking the joy out of the heart of foreign travel. It is one of those trifles which frequently prove a severer test to philosophy than calamities. In the East this thing is called bakhshîsh, in Germany trinkgeld, in Italy buonamano, in France pourboire,1 in England — I do not know how it is called in England, but it is called for pretty often. In whatever soft, insidious syllable it may wrap itself, it is nothing but hateful. A piece of money which is not earned by honest service, but is extracted from you as a matter of course by any vagabond who may start out of the bowels of the earth, like a gnome or a kobold, at the sound of your footfall, is a shameless coin : it debases him that gives and him that takes.
Everywhere on the Continent the tourist is looked upon as a bird to be plucked, and presently the bird himself feebly comes to regard plucking as his proper destiny, and abjectly holds out his wing so long as there is a feather left on it. I say everywhere on the Continent, but, indeed, a man of ordinary agilitymight walk over the greater part of Europe on the outstretched palms of the lower classes. Russians and Americans have the costly reputation of being lavish of money on their travels, — the latter are pictured by the fervid Italian imagination to reside in gold-mines located in California and various parts of the State of New York, — and are consequently favorites. The Frenchman is too artful and the Briton too brusque to cut up well as victims. The Italian rarely ventures far from his accustomed flea, but when he does, like the German (who, on the other hand, is fond of traveling), he voyages on a most economical basis. He carries off the unburnt candle-end, and his gratuities are homœopathic. In spite of his cunning, I have no doubt — I should be sorry to doubt — that his own countrymen skin him alive.
In Italy one is besieged by beggars morning, noon, and night ; a small coin generally suffices, and a little goodnature always goes a great way ; for they are a childish race ; there is something innocent in their deepest strategy, and something very winning in the amiability with which they will accept the situation when their villainy is frustrated. Sometimes, however, when the petitioner is not satisfied with your largess, — as always happens when you give him more than he expected, — he is scarcely polite. I learned this from a venerable ex-sailor in Genoa. “ Go, brigand ! ” was the candid advice of that ancient mariner. He then fell to cursing my relatives, the family tomb, and everything appertaining to me — with my coin warming in his pocket.
It is fair to observe that the Italian beggar usually renders tribute to an abstract idea of manhood by assuming that he has done you some sort of service. This service is not generally visible to the unaided eye, and I fancy that the magnifying glass of sufficient power to enable you always to detect it has yet to be invented. But it is to his everlasting praise that he often does try to throw a veil of decency over the naked injustice of his demand, though he is too apt to be content with the thinnest of fabrics. I have paid a Neapolitan gentleman ten sous for leaning against a dead-wall in front of a hotel window. The unexpectedness and the insinuating audacity of the appeals frequently take away your presence of mind and leave you limp. There was an old son of Naples who dwelt on a curb-stone near the Castel dell’ Ovo. Stumbling on his private public residence quite unintentionally one forenoon, I was immediately assessed. Ever after he claimed me, and finally brought his son-in-law to me and introduced him as a person combining many of the most desirable qualities of a pensioner. One of his strong points was that he had been accidentally carried off to America, having fallen asleep one day in the hold of a fruit vessel.
“But, sir,” I said, “why should I give you anything ? I don’t know you.”
“ That is the reason, signor.”
At bottom it was an excellent reason. If I paid the father-in-law for the pleasure of knowing him, was it not logical and just that I should pay the son-inlaw for the much greater pleasure I had had in not knowing him? The slightest thing will serve, in Italy, for a lien upon your exchequer. An urchin who turns himself into a Catherine-wheel at your carriage side, or stands on his head under the very hoofs of your horses, approaches you with the confidence of a prodigal son. A three-day old nosegay thrown into your lap gives a small Italian maiden in one garment the right to cling to the footboard of your vettura until you reimburse her. In driving from Pompeii to Sorrento, no fewer than fifty of these floral tributes will be showered upon you. The little witches who throw the flowers are very often pretty enough to be caught and sculptured. An inadvertent glance towards a fellow sleeping by the roadside places you at once in a false position. I have known an even less compromising thing than a turn of the eyelid to establish financial relations between the stranger and the native. I have known a sneeze to do it. One morning, on the Mole at Venice, an unassuming effort of my own in this line was attended by a most unexpected result. Eight or ten young ragamuffins, who had been sunning themselves at a gondola-landing, instantly started up from a recumbent posture and advanced upon me in a semicircle, with “ Salute, signor, salute !” One of these youths disturbed a preconceived idea of mine by suddenly exclaiming, —
“ I am a boy Americano, dam ! ”
As I had not come so far from home to relieve the necessities of my own countrymen, and as I reflected that possibly this rogue’s companions were also profane Americanos, I gave them nothing but a genial smile, which they divided among them with the resignation that seems to be a national trait.
The transatlantic impostor, like Mephistopheles, has as many shapes as men have fancies. Sometimes he keeps a shop, and sometimes he turns a handorgan. Now he looks out at you from the cowl of a mediæval monk, and now you behold him in a white choker, pretending to be a verger. You become at last so habituated to seeing persons approach in formâ pauperis, that your barber seems to lack originality when he “leaves it to your generosity,” though he has a regular tariff for his local patrons. He does not dare name a price in your case, though the price were four or five times above his usual rate, for he knows that you would accept his terms unhesitatingly, and his existence would be forever blighted by the reflection that he might have charged you more.
These things, I repeat, cease to amaze one after a while, though I plead guilty to a new sensation the day a respectable Viennese physician left it to my generosity. I attempted to reason with Herr Doctor Scheister, but quite futilely. No, it was so he treated princes and Americans. It was painful to see a member of a noble profession, not to say the noblest, placing himself on a footing with grooms and barbers and venders of orange-wood walking-sticks. But the intelligent Herr Doctor Scheister was content to do that.
In many cities the street beggar is under the strict surveillance of the police ; yet there is no spot in Europe but has its empty palm. It is only in Italy, however, that pauperism is a regular branch of industry. There it has been elevated to a fine art. Elsewhere it is a sordid, clumsy make-shift, with no joy in it. It falls short of being a gay science in France or Germany, or Austria or Hungary. In Scotland it is depressing. The guide-books give disheartening accounts of mendicancy in Ireland ; but that must be in the interior. I saw nothing of it along the coast, at Dublin and Cork. I encountered only one beggar in Ireland, at Queenstown, who retired crest-fallen when I informed him in English that I was a Frenchman and did n’t understand him.
“ Thrue for ye,” he said, “ bad ’cess to me, what was I thinkin’ ov ! ”
On the rising and falling inflection of that brogue I returned to America quite independently of a Cunard steamer. I had to call the man back and pay my passage.
In England you are subjected to a different kind of pillage. There are beggars enough and to spare in the larger cities ; but that is not the class which preys upon you in Merrie England. It is the middle - aged housekeeper, the smart chambermaid, the elegiac waiter and his assistant, the boy in buttons who opens the hall door, the frowzy subterranean person called Boots, the coachman, the ostler, and one or two other individuals whose precise relevancy to your affairs will always remain a pleasing mystery to you, but who nevertheless stand in a line with the rest in the hall of the wayside inn, at your departure, and expect a gratuity. They each look for a fee ranging from two to ten shillings sterling, though a very magnificent charge for attendance has already been recorded in your bill, which appears to have been drawn up by an amateur mathematician of somewhat uncertain touch as yet in the intricate art of addition.
The English cousin of the American working-man, who would feel inclined to knock you down if you offered him money for telling you the time of day, will very placidly pocket a fee for that heavy service. In walking the streets of London you never get over your astonishment at that eminently respectable person in black — your conjecture makes him a small curate or a tutor in some institution of learning — who, after answering your trivial question, takes the breath out of you by suggesting his willingness to drink your ’ealth.
On the whole, I am not certain that I do not prefer the graceful, foliage-like, vagabond ways of Pietro and Giuliana to the icy mendicity of Jeemes.
They have a fashion across the water, particularly on the Continent, of making much of their dead. A fifteenth or a sixteenth century celebrity is a revenue to the church or town in which the distinguished ashes may chance to repose. It would he an interesting operation, if it were practicable, to draw a line between the local reverence for the virtues of the deceased and that strictly mundane spirit which regards him as assets. The two are so nicely dovetailed that I fancy it would be quite impossible, in most instances, to say where the one ends and the other begins.
In the case of the good Cardinal Borromeo, for example. The good cardinal died in 1584. He is one of the loveliest figures in history. Nobly born, rich, and learned, he devoted himself and his riches to holy deeds. The story of his life is a record of beautiful sacrifices and unselfish charities. He gave nearly all his possessions to the poor, leaving himself at times as destitute as a Franciscan friar. During the great plague at Milan in 1576, he sold what was left of his plate and furniture to buy bread for the famishing people. When he died, all Italy wept for him like one pair of eyes. He lies in the crypt of the cathedral at Milan. It is dark down in the crypt ; but above him are carvings and gildings and paintings, basking in the mellow light sifted through, the immense choir windows, —
As are the tiger-moth’s deep-damasked wings.”
Above the fretted roof the countless “ statued pinnacles ” lift themselves into the blue air. How magical all that delicate needle-work of architecture looks by moonlight or sunlight !
The giant windows' blazoned fires,
The height, the space, the gloom, the glory !
A mount of marble, a hundred spires ! ”
When they show you the embalmed body of Borromeo, — for it is really the body and not merely the sarcophagus they show you, — the custode, a priest, lights the high candles on either side of the silver - encrusted altar. The cardinal’s remains are kept in an hermetically-scaled case of rock crystal set within a massive oak coffin, one side of which is lowered by a windlass. There he lies in his jeweled robes, with his gloved hands crossed on his bosom and his costly crosier at his side, just as they laid him away nearly three centuries ago. The features are wonderfully preserved, and have not lost the placid expression they wore when he fell asleep, that look of dreamy serenity peculiar to the faces of dead persons. The head is bald, and as black as ebony. There were services going on the day we visited the cathedral. Above us the crowds came and went on the mosaic pavements, but no sound of the outside world penetrated to the dim, begemmed chapel where Carlo Borromeo, count, cardinal, and saint, takes what rest he can. We stood silent in the unflaring candlelight, gazing on the figure which had been so beloved in Milan in its time. Presently the black - robed custode turned the noiseless crank, and the coffin side slowly ascended to its place. It was all very solemn and impressive, — too impressive and too solemn altogether for so small a sum as five francs.
I am but an intermittent worshiper of saints ; yet I have an ineradicable belief in good men like Carlo Borromeo, and, as he has long since finished his earthly tasks, I think it would be showing the cardinal greater respect to bury him than to exhibit him. He nearly spoiled my visit to Milan. I resolved to have nothing more to do with the dead, directly or indirectly. But the dead play a very prominent part in the experience of the wanderer abroad. The houses in which they were born, the tombs in which they lie, the localities they made famous by their good or evil deeds, and the works their genius left behind them are necessarily the chief shrines of his pilgrimage. You leave London with a distincter memory of the monuments in Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s than of the turbulent streams of life that surge through the Strand. Mr. Blank, to whom you bore a letter of introduction, is not so real a person to you as John Milton, whose grave you saw at St, Giles’s, Cripplegate, or De Foe, who sleeps in the melancholy Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, — the scene of “ the great pit in Finsbury,” in his history of the London plague. You catch yourself assisting, with strange relish, at the burning of heretics at Smithfield. Ridley and Latimer stand before you in flesh and bone and flame at Oxford. Thomas à Becket falls stabbed at your feet on the stone flagging in Canterbury Cathedral. At Holyrood, are not Darnley and pallid Ruthven, in his steel corselet, forever creeping up that narrow spiral staircase leading to the small cabinet where Rizzio is supping with the queen ? You cannot escape these things if you would. Your railway carriage takes you up at one famous grave and sets you down at another. In Paris, where the very atmosphere thrills with intense life, you are brought at each step face to face with the dead. What people are these that flit in groups up and down the brilliant boulevards ? They are not sipping absinthe and taking their ease, — the poor ghosts, old and new ! Can you stand in the Place de la Concorde and not think of the twenty-eight hundred persons who were guillotined there between 1793 and 1795 ? A few minutes’ walk from the crowded cafés leads you to the morgue, “ the little Doric morgue,” as Browning calls it. The gilded dome of the Invelides keeps perpetually in your mind “ the terror of Europe,” held down by sixty tons of porphyry, in the rotunda, — the grandest tomb in the world. The neatly - swept asphalt under your feet ran blood but yesterday. Here it was, near the Tuileries, the insurgents had a barricade. Those white spots which you observe on the facade of yonder building, the Madeleine, are bits of new stone set into the sacrilegious shot-holes. On the verge of the city, and within sound of its feverish heartthrob, stretch Père la Chaise, and Montmartre, and Mont Parnasse, pathetic with renowned names.
I suppose that a taste for church-yards and cemeteries is a cultivated taste. At home they were entirely disconnected in my mind with any thought of enjoyment ; but after a month on the other side I preferred a metropolitan graveyard to almost any object of interest that could be presented to me. A cemetery at home suggests awkward possibilities ; but nothing of the kind occurs to you in rambling through a foreign burial-ground. You wander along the serpentine walk as you would stroll through a picture-gallery. You as little think of adding a mound to the one as you would of contributing a painting to the other. You survey the monoliths and the bas-reliefs and the urns and the miniature Athenian temples from the Stand-point of an unbiased spectator who has paid his admittance fee and expects entertainment or instruction. Some of the pleasantest hours I passed in sightseeing were spent in grave-yards. The Jewish cemetery at Prague, with its smoky Gothic synagogue of the thirteenth century (the Altneuschule), and the ancient church-yard of St. John at Nuremberg, where the remains of Albert Dürer once rested, and where Hans Sachs and many another worthy of his day still rest, were among the most notable things we saw. The engraved brass plates — the P. P. C. cards, so to speak, of the departed aristocracy of Nuremberg — on the horizontal slabs of St. John’s are very quaint, with their crests, and coats-of-arms, and symbols of gentility. At Prague the stones are marked with pitchers and hands, to designate the descendants of the tribes of Levi and Aaron. They claim to have one stone that dates as far back as A. D. 606. Some of the graves are held in great veneration ; that of Rabbi Abignor Kara, who died in 1439, is often made the point of pilgrimage by Jews living in distant lands. Within the yard is a building where the funeral rites are performed, and grave-clothes are kept for all comers. The dead millionaire and the dead pauper are arrayed in the same humble garb, and alike given to earth in a rough board coffin. The Jewish custom, like death itself, is no respecter of persons. There is a fine austerity in this.
It was always a vague satisfaction to observe that the mortuary sculptures of the Old World were every whit as hideous as our own. The sepulchral designs in churches abroad are generally in the worst style of Middle Age realism. A half-draped skeleton of Death, plunging his dart into the bosom of some emaciated marble girl, seems to have been a consoling symbol to the survivors a few centuries ago. This ghastly fancy is constantly under your eyes. If I call it ghastly I give expression to the effect it produced on me at first. It would not be honest for me to affirm that I did not like it at last. I became so accustomed to this skeleton and his brother monstrosities that when we visited those three grim chambers under the Church of the Capuchins at Rome, and saw the carefully polished skulls of hundreds of monks wrought into pillars and arches and set upon shelves, I looked at them as complacently as if they had been a lot of exploded percussion - caps. “ It is a pity they can’t be used again,” I thought ; and that was all. I began to believe the beautiful economy of nature to be greatly overrated.
This is the burial-place of the Cappuccini, who esteem it a blissful privilege to he here for a few years in consecrated earth brought from Jerusalem, and then, when their graves are wanted for fresher brothers, to be taken up and transformed into architectural decorations. The walls and recesses and arched ceilings of these chapels (which are beneath the church but not under ground) are thus ornamented with the brotherhood skillfully arranged in fanciful devices, the finger-joints and the fragile links of the vertebral column being wrought into friezes and light cornices, and the larger bones arranged in diamonds and hearts and rounds, like the sabres and bayonets in an armory. Here and there on the ceiling is a complete skeleton set into the plastering, quite suggestive of an outline by Flaxman or Retzsch. It requires a highly cultivated taste to appreciate this. The poor monks ! they were not very ornamental in life ; but time is full of compensations. Death seems to have relieved them of one unhappy characteristic. “ There is no disagreeable scent,” says the author of The Marble Faun, describing this place, “ such as might have been expected from the decay of so many holy persons, in whatever odor of sanctity they may have taken their departure. The same number of living monks would not smell half so unexceptionably.” The Capuchin golgotha is more striking than the Parisian catacombs, for the reason that its contracted limits do not allow you to escape from the least of its horrible grotesqueness. In the catacombs you are impressed by their extent rather than by anything else.
Rome is one enormous mausoleum. There the Past lies visibly stretehed upon his bier. There is no to-day or to-morrow in Rome ; it is perpetual yesterday. One might lift up a handful of dust anywhere and say, with the Persian poet, “ This was once man.” Where everything has been so long dead, a death of to-day seems almost an impertinence. How quickly and with what serene irony the new grave is absorbed by the universal antiquity of the place ! The block of marble over Keats does not appear a day fresher than the neighboring Pyramid of Cains Cestius. Oddly enough, we saw no funeral in Rome. In almost every other large city it was our fortune, either as we entered or departed, to meet a funeral cortege. Every one stands uncovered as the train crawls by, the vehicles come to a halt at the curbstone, the children stop their play, heads are bowed, golden locks and gray, on every side. As I have said, though in a different sense, they make much of their dead abroad. I was struck by the contrast the day we reached home. Driving from the steamer, we encountered a hearse straggling down Broadway. It attracted as much reverential attention as would be paid to an ice-cart.
I happened to witness a picturesque funeral in Venice. It was that of a chorus-hoy, in a church on one of the smaller canals somewhere west of the Rialto. I stumbled on the church accidentally that forenoon, and was not able to find it again the next day, —a circumstance to which the incident perhaps owes the fairy-like atmosphere that envelops it for me. The building had disappeared, like Aladdin’s palace, in the night.
They were performing a mass as I entered. The great rose window behind the organ and the chancel windows were darkened with draperies, and the colossal candles were burning. The coffin, covered with a heavily embroidered pall, stood on an elevated platform in front of the magnificent altar. The inlaid columns glistening In the candle-light, the smoke of the incense curling lazily up to the frescoed dome, the priests in elaborate robes kneeling around the bier, — it was like a masterly composed picture. When the ceremonies were concluded, the coffin was lifted from the platform by six young friars and borne to a gondola in waiting at the steps near the portals. The priests, carrying a huge golden crucifix and several tall gilt torches, unlighted, crowded into the bow and stern of the floating hearse, which was attached by a long rope to another gondola occupied by oarsmen. Following these were two or three covered gondolas whose connection with the obsequies was not clear to me, as they appeared to be empty. Slowly down the narrow canal, in that dead stillness which reigns in Venice, swept the sombre flotilla, bearing its unconscious burden to the Campo Santo. The air was full of vagrant spring scents, and the sky that arched over all was carved of one vast, unclouded turquoise. In the deserted church were two old crones scraping up the drippings of the wax candles from the tessellated pavement. Nothing except time is wasted in Italy.
I saw a more picturesque though not so agreeable a funeral in Florence. The night of our arrival was one of those unearthly moonlight nights which belong to Italy. The Arno, changed to a stream of quicksilver, flowed swiftly through the stone arches of the Ponte Vecchio under our windows, and lured me with its beauty out-of-doors, though a great clock somewhere near by had just clanged eleven. By an engraving I had seen in boyhood I recognized the bridge of Taddeo Gaddi, with its goldsmith shops on either side. They were closed now, of course. I strolled across the bridge and back again once or twice, and then wandered off into a net-work of dingy streets, traversed by one street so very narrow that you saw only a hand’s breadth of sapphire sky between the tops of the tall buildings. Standing in the middle of the thoroughfare, I could almost touch the shutters of the shops right and left. At the upper end of the street, which was at least three quarters of a mile in length, the overhanging fronts of the lofty houses seemed to meet and shut out the dense moonlight. In the desperate struggle which took place there between the moon and the gloom, a hundred fantastic shadows slipped from coigne and cornice and fell into the street below, like besiegers flung from the ramparts of some old castle. Not a human being nor a light was anywhere visible. Suddenly I saw what, for an instant, I took to be a fallen star in the extreme distance. It was moving. It approached in a zigzag course. It broke into several stars ; these grew larger ; then I discovered they were torches. A low monotonous chant, like the distant chorus of demons in an opera, reached my ear. The chant momently increased in distinctness, and as the torches drew nearer I saw that they were carried by fifteen or twenty persons marching in a square, in the middle of which was a bier supported by a number of ghostly figures. The procession was sweeping down on me at the rate of six miles an hour; the trailing pall flapped in the wind caused by the velocity of the march. When the cortege was within twenty or thirty yards of me, I noticed that the bier-bearers and the persons who held the flambeaux were shrouded from forehead to foot in white sheets with holes pierced for the eyes. I never beheld anything more devilish. On they came, occupying the whole width of the narrow street. I had barely time to crowd myself into a projecting doorway, when they swept by with a rhythmical, swinging gait, to the measure of their awful threnody. I waited until the muffled chant melted into the distance, — and then I made a bee-line for the hotel.
In Italy the hour of interment is graduated by the worldly position of the deceased. The poor are buried in the daytime ; thus the expense of torches is avoided. Illuminated night-funerals are reserved for the wealthy and persons of rank. At least, I believe that such is the regulation, though the reverse of this order may be the case. At Naples, I know, the interments in the Camposanto Vecchio take place a little before sunset. Shelley said of the Protestant Burying Ground at Rome that the spot was lovely enough to make one in love with death. Nobody would dream of saying that about the Camposanto at Naples, — a parallelogram of several hundred feet, inclosed on three sides by a high wall and on the fourth by an arcade. In this dreary space, approached through a dismal avenue of cypresses, are three hundred and sixty - six deep pits, one of which is opened each evening to receive the dead of that day, and then sealed up, — one pit for each day of the year. I fancy that the extra pit must be for leapyear. Only the poorest persons, paupers and waifs, are buried here, if it can be called buried. The body is usually left unattended at the arcade, to await its turn.
There is a curious burial custom at Munich. The law requires that, every man, woman, and child who dies within city limits shall he in state for three days in the Leichenhaus (dead house) of the Gottesacker, the southern cemetery, outside the Sendling Gate. This is to prevent any chance of premature burial, an instance of which many years ago gave rise to the present provision. The Leichenhaus is comprised of three large chambers or salons, in which the dead are placed upon raised couches and surrounded by flowers. A series of wide windows giving upon the arcade affords the public an unobstructed view of the interior. The spectacle is not so repellant as one might anticipate. The neatlykept, well - lighted rooms, the profusion of flowers, and the scrupulous propriety which prevails in all the arrangements, make the thing as little terrible as possible. On the Sunday of our visit to the Gottesacker, the place was unusually full of bodies awaiting interment, — old men and women, young girls, and infants. Some were like exquisite statues, others like wax-figures, and all piteous. Attached to the hand of each adult was a string or wire connected with a bell in the custodian’s apartment. It would be difficult to imagine, a more, startling sound than would be the sudden klingkling of one. of those same bells !
But I have been playing too long what Balzac calls a solo de corbillard.
I once asked an American friend, who had spent many years in foreign travel, to tell me what one thing most impressed him in his various wanderings. I supposed he was going to say the Pyramids. His reply was, “ The politeness and consideration I have met with from every one except traveling Englishmen and Americans.”
I was afterwards told, by an impolite person, that this politeness was merely a surface polish ; but it is a singularly agreeable sort of veneer, and much better worth bringing home than bronzes and specimens of the old masters. Specimens of the old masters you can get — painted to order — in this country, but the veneer is a more difficult affair.
What if the smoothness is all on the surface ? Some one says that if any of us were peeled, a savage would be found at the core. It is a very great merit, then, to have this savage wrapped in numerous folds and rendered as hard to peel as possible. For the most part, the pilgrim abroad comes in contact with only the outside of men and things. The main point is gained if that outside is pleasant. Likely enough your concierge at Paris was a pétroleuse in the days of the Commune ; but does she not smile upon you with the brightness of a twofranc candle when she sees you coming in at ever so much o’clock at night ?
The American at home enjoys a hundred conveniences which he finds wanting in the heart of European civilization. Many matters which we consider as necessities here are regarded as luxuries there. A well-appointed private house in an American city has perfections in the way of light, heat, water, ventilation, drainage, etc., that are not to be obtained even in palaces abroad. The traveler is constantly amused by the primitive agricultural implements which he sees employed in some parts of France, Italy, and Germany, by the ingenuous devices they have for watering the streets of their grand capitals, and by the strange disregard of economy in man - power in everything. A water-cart in Berlin, for illustration, requires three men to manage it : one to drive, and two on foot behind to twitch right and left, by means of ropes, a short hose with a sprinkler at the end.
This painful hose, attached to a chubby Teutonic - looking barrel, has the appearance of being the tail of some wretched nondescript animal whose sufferings would, in our own land, invoke the swift interposition of Mr. Bergh. That this machine is wholly inadequate to the simple duty of sprinkling the street is a fact not perhaps worth mentioning. The culinary utensils of Central Germany are, I venture to say, of nearly the same pattern as those used by Eve, — judging by some earthenware and iron-mongery I caught a glimpse of in the kitchen of the Rothe Ross at Nuremberg. I saw in Italy a wheelbarrow that must have been an infringement of an Egyptian patent of 500 B. C. I forget in what imperial city it was I beheld a tin bath-tub shamelessly allowing itself to be borne from door to door and let out by the job. In several respects the United States are one or two centuries in advance of Europe ; but in that little matter of veneering I have mentioned, we are very far behind her.
The incivility which greets the American traveler at every stage in his own domains is so rare an accomplishment among foreign railway, steamboat, and hotel officials, that it is possible to journey from Dan to Beersheba — certainly from Ponkapog to Pesth — without meeting a single notable instance of it. I think that the gentlemen of the Dogana at Ventimiglia were selected expressly on account of their high breeding to examine luggage at that point. In France — by France I mean Paris — even the drivers of the public carriages are civil. Civilization can go no further. If Darwin is correct in his theory of the survival of the fittest, there will ultimately not be a single New York hackman left on the face of the earth. We shall have to import Parisians. I am not positive but we shall also run short of railway conductors and ticket-sellers. We have persons occupying these posts here who could not hold similar positions in Europe fifteen minutes.
The guard who has charge of your carriage on a continental railway, so far from being the haughty autocrat who on our own cars too often snatches your ticket from you and snubs you at a word, is the most thoughtful and considerate of men ; he looks after the welfare and comfort of your party as if that were the specialty for which he was created ; he never loses countenance at your daring French or German, or the graceful New England accent you throw upon your Italian ; he is ready with the name of that ruined castle which stands like a jagged tooth in the mouth of the mountain gorge ; he does not neglect to tell you at what station you may find an excellent buffet ; you cannot weary him with questions ; he will smilingly answer the same one a hundred times ; and when he is killed in a collision with the branch train, you are not afraid to think where he will go, with all this kindliness.
I am convinced that it is the same person, thinly disguised as the proprietor of a hotel, who receives you at the foot of the staircase as you step down from the omnibus, and is again the attentive and indefatigable chamberlain to your earthly comfort. It is an old friend who has been waiting for you these many years. To be sure, as the proprietor of a hotel the old friend makes you pay roundly for all this ; but do you not pay roundly for food and shelter in taverns on your native heath, and get no civility whatever, unless the hotel-clerk has lost his mind ? Your continental inn-keeper, of whatever nationality, keeps a paternal eye on you and does not allow you to be imposed upon by outsiders. If you are to be imposed upon, he attends to that trifling formality himself, and always graciously. Across three thousand miles of sea and I know not how many miles of land, I touch my hat at this moment to the landlord of that snuffy little hostelry at Wittenberg, who awoke me at midnight to excuse himself for not having waited upon us in person when we arrived by the ten o’clock train. He had had a card-party — the Herr Professor Something-splatz and a few friends — in the coffee-room, and really, etc., etc. He could n’t sleep, and did n’t let me, until he had made his excuses. It was downright charming in you, mine host of the Goldner Adler ; I thank you for it, and I’d thank you not to do it again.
Every American who has passed a week in rural England must have carried away, even if he did not bring with him, a fondness for our former possessions. The solid hospitality he has received at the comfortable old inns nestled in leaves and mosses by the roadside is sure to figure among his pleasantest reminiscences. It lies in his recollection with Stratford and Canterbury and Grassmere ; as he thinks of it, it takes something of the picturesqueness of those ruined abbeys and cathedrals which went so far to satisfy his morbid appetite for everything that is wrinkled and demolished in the way of architecture. It was Shenstone who said, —
Whate'er his stages may have been,
May sigh to think he still has found
The warmest welcome at an inn.”
The foreign traveler will scarcely be inclined to sigh over that. If he is, he will have cause to sigh in many an English village and in most of the leading cities across the Channel. I know of one party that can think with nothing but gratitude of their reception at the Hotel —, one raw April night after a stormy passage from Dover to Calais and a cheerless railway ride thence to Paris. Rooms had been bespoken by telegraph, and when the wanderers arrived at the Rue de Rivoli they found such exquisite preparation for their coming as seemed to have been made by well-known gentle hands reaching across the Atlantic. In a small salon adjoining the parlor assigned to the party, the wax candles threw a soft light over the glass and silver appointments of a table spread for their repast. A waiter arranging a dish of fruit at the buffet greeted them with a good evening, as if he had been their servitor for years, instead of now laying eyes upon them for the first time. In the open chimney-place of the parlor was a wood fire Mazing cheerfully on the backs of a couple of brass griffins who did not seem to mind it. On the mantel-piece was an antique clock, flanked by bronze candlesticks that would have taken your heart in a bric-à-brac shop. The furniture, the draperies, and the hundred and one nicknacks lying around on tables and étagères, showed the touch of a tasteful woman’s hand. It might have been a room in a château. It was as unlike as possible to those gaudy barracks— fitted up at so much per yard by a soulless upholsterer — which we call parlors in our own hotels. Beyond this were the sleeping apartments, in the centre of one of which stood the neatest of femmes de chambre, with the demurest of dark eyes, and the pinkest of ribbons on her cap. She held in her hand a small copper pitcher of hot water, and looked like Liotard’s pretty painting of the Chocolate Girl come to life. On a toilettetable under a draped mirror was a slender vase of Bohemian glass holding two or three fresh tea-roses. What beau of the old régime had slipped out of his tomb to pay madam that gallantry ?
Outside of the larger cities on the Continent you can get as wretched accommodations as you could desire for an enemy. In most of the German and Italian provinces, aside from the main routes of travel, the inns are abominable beyond description ; but the people are invariably courteous. I hardly know how to account for the politeness which seems to characterize every class abroad. Possibly it is partly explained by the military system which in many countries requires of each man a certain term of service ; the soldier is disciplined in the severest school of manners ; he is taught to treat both his superior and his inferior with deference ; courtesy becomes second nature. Certainly it is the rule and not the exception among continental nations. From the threshold of a broken down châlet in some loneliest Alpine pass you will be saluted graciously. You grow skeptical as to that " rude Carinthian boor ” who, in Goldsmith’s poem, —
I am aware that all this is strangely at variance with the statements of other chroniclers. Every man must accept his own experience. There are small, uncomfortable souls everywhere, if one is minded to look for them. My memory, luckily, is so coarsely woven a sieve that particularly small, uncomfortable souls sift through. I think it has caught nothing in this sort, except the landlord of the Argyll Arms at Inverary, and him I have n’t the slightest use for. For me, the brutality of the Saxons still lies exclusively between the covers of Mr. Julian Hawthorne’s Saxon Studies. His criticisms may be as just as they are lively ; Mr. Hawthorne passed three or four years in Saxony, and I spent ten or twelve days there ; my experience weighs nothing against his; but I would not exchange with him.
No French, Italian, or Saxon gentleman, so far as I have observed, enters or leaves a café of the better class without lifting his hat, especially if there are ladies present. As he hurries from the railway carriage at his station, — a station at which the train halts for perhaps only a few seconds, — he seldom neglects to turn on the step and salute his fellowpassengers. It is true, for the last hour or two he sat staring over the top of his journal at your wife or sister ; but to be a breaker of the female heart is what they all seem to aspire to, over there. It appears to be recognized as not illbred to stare at a lady so long as there is anything left of her. It is in that fashion American ladies are stared at by Frenchmen and Germans and Italians, who, aside from this, are very polite to our countrywomen, — marvelously polite when we reflect that the generality of untraveled foreigners, beyond the Straits of Dover, regard us, down deep in their hearts, as only a superior race of barbarians.
They would miss us sadly if we were to become an extinct race. Not to mention other advantages resulting from our existence, our desire to behold their paintings and statuary and the marvels of their architecture — to which they themselves are for the most part only half alive, especially in Italy —keeps a thousand of their lovely, musty old towns from collapsing. They understand this perfectly, and do whatever lies within them to interest us ; they are even so obliging as to invent tombs and historic localities for our edification, and come at last to believe in them themselves. In that same Wittenberg of which I have spoken, they will show you the house of Hamlet ! and at Ferrara, a high-strung, sympathetic valet-de-place, if properly encouraged, will throw tears into his voice as he stands with you in a small cellar where by no chance is it probable that Tasso was immured for seven years, or even seven minutes. PRIGIONE DI TASSO ! I have as genuine a prison of Tasso at Ponkapog. Though their opinion of us is not always as flattering as we could wish, it shall not prevent me from saying that these people are the most charming and courteous people on the globe, and that I shall forget the Madonna at Dresden, the Venus in the Louvre, and the Piazza of St. Mark as I saw it once by moonlight, before I forget an interview I witnessed one day in the Rue de I’École de Médecine, between a fat, red-faced concierge and a very much battered elderly French gentleman, whose redingote, buttoned closely up to his chin, threw vague but still damaging suspicions on his supply of linen.
“ Pardon, madame,” said the decayed old gentleman, lifting his threadbare silk hat by its curled brim with indescribable grace as he approached, " is M. . . . within ? ”
“ I think not, but I will see.”
“ I am pained ” ( Je suis désolé) “ to give you the trouble.”
“ It is no trouble, monsieur.”
“ Merci, madame.”
The concierge disappeared. Presently she returned, loaded to the muzzle with the information that M. . . . was unfortunately not at home.
“A thousand pardons, madame, but will you have the amiability to give him this” (presenting a card that had seen better days) “ as soon as he returns ? ”
“ Certainly, monsieur.”
“ Madame, I am sensible of your kindness.”
“ Do not speak of it.”
“ Bonjour, madame.”
“ Bonjour, monsieur.”
This poor gentleman’s costume was very far on its way to a paper-mill ; but adversity had left His manners intact, and they were fit for palaces.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
- We met a fellow-countryman in Paris who fell into a singular error concerning this word “ pourboire.” He thought it was the French for “ poor boy,” and on being accosted one day by a very old beggar woman, he was struck by the incongruity. “ Oh,” he exclaimed, “ you are a ‘ poor boy,’too, are you ? Come, now, that’s a little too steep ! ”↩